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Body Works Personal Training Tips

Ernest Brandon
Community Columnist, The Florida Times-Union

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Preventing the Flu with Fitness

Ernest Brandon

The shortage of influenza vaccine has made headlines all over the nation, prompting long lines at health departments and drug stores, and even leading to Congressional hearings. While the vaccine is helpful - especially for those with serious health problems - most people can significantly improve their chances of staying healthy during flu season with exercise and nutrition. Unfortunately, this preventative angle hasn't been getting much publicity.

The concept is simple: in order for your immune system to work, you have to move. This isn't a far-out concept, it is medically-recognized fact. One of the reasons health care providers try to get patients moving as soon as possible after surgery is to stimulate immune response and decrease the chance of infection. The same principle applies to preventing the flu. If you engage in a daily exercise routine and get the proper amount of vitamins, you have a significantly reduced chance of getting the flu.

Movement is crucial to staving off illness. While we have a pump to get blood through the circulatory system - the heart - there is no pump for the lymphatic system, which provides a crucial line of defense against infection by carrying lymph fluid throughout the body. The only way to move the lymph fluid through the body is to move - contracting your muscles and compressing parts of the lymphatic system. This action, analogous to squeezing toothpaste out of the tube, is what moves the lymph fluid throughout the body.

On the nutritional front, it is also important to increase your intake of Vitamin C. Two important components of your body's immune system are cholesterol and Vitamin C. (This does not mean you should go wolf down a couple of Big Macs and a glass of orange juice! Your liver makes plenty of cholesterol -- just add the Vitamin C.)

In summary, exercise is a very effective way to strengthen the immune system. Combine it with a plentiful supply of Vitamin C in your diet and you will decrease your chances of catching the flu-even without the flu shot.